Taliban attack police HQ in embattled Afghan city

KABUL: Fighting erupted anew in the embattled northern Afghan city of Kunduz on Tuesday after the Taliban attacked a police headquarters overnight and officials warned that food and other emergency aid cannot get through to the city.

The clashes and the dire warnings underscored the tenuous hold authorities have on this strategic city whose fall to the Taliban was an embarrassing blow to President Ashraf Ghani. The Afghan government has been criticized for ignoring warnings earlier of Taliban threats to the city.

Moreover, a bombing early Saturday of a hospital in Kunduz belonging to Doctors Without Borders — in which at least 22 people were killed — has raised wider questions as to the circumstances that led to the prominent medical charity being hit in an apparent US airstrike.

The Taliban managed to overrun and hold Kunduz for three days last week, until government forces launched a counter-offensive on Thursday. The insurgents have since largely been pushed out, but skirmishes have continued on the outskirts.

Overnight, several militants managed to re-enter the city center and attack Kunduz police headquarters and other government buildings, said Sarwar Hussaini, the spokesman for the provincial police chief.

By Tuesday morning, some gunmen had pushed their way close to the main city square. "Fighting is also going on with the Taliban near the Ghazanfar Bank, close to main square," Hussaini said.

Kunduz residents reported hit-and-run attacks by the Taliban, with the insurgents making incursions into the city center from far-flung rural areas, engaging troops, then retreating again.

Abdul Manan, a resident who spoke to The Associated Press over the phone, said he had seen a group of Taliban fighters enter the main square, remove the government flag and exchange fire with troops for half hour, then flee from the area.

With the Taliban blitz, shops closed and people shuttered in their homes, as the humanitarian situation steadily worsened in Kunduz. Deliveries of food and other basic essentials have not been able to get in since the September 28 Taliban assault.

Aslim Sayas, a deputy head of the Afghan disaster management, said it was still too dangerous and unpredictable for supplies to be trucked into Kunduz. Instead, he said authorities were helping the population that has fled from Kunduz.

"Right now we are providing food and non-food items to refugees and displaced people in Takhar, Badakhshan and Balkh," he said, referring to northern provinces to the east and west of Kunduz.

Medicines, too, have not been delivered to hospitals, and the air strike on the Doctors Without Borders trauma center had closed an essential medical facility in the war-torn city.

The Ministry of Public Health issued a statement calling for "a thorough, impartial investigation by an independent enquiry team" into the Saturday bombing of the hospital. Circumstances remain unclear, and the Afghan government and US military have launched investigations into the incident that left 22 people dead.

The ministry said the attack had jeopardised "vital health, medical and surgical work of international and local health personnel" working in Afghanistan.

"Staff no longer feel safe in any health facility anywhere in the country. And some international health organisations are questioning whether the risks of staying in the country are just too high after such an attack," it said.